Month: March 2014

Trust Management By Committee: Should I Make My Children Co-Trustees?

Most people name themselves (and/or their spouse) as the initial trustees of their living trust. You’ll need to name successor trustees to manage the trust when you’re no longer able to. Since a successor trustee should be someone you trust, many people choose a child. But what happens if you have several children?

In some cases, one child may be the clear choice for any number of reasons—they’re more responsible or maybe they live nearby. If you think more than one child could do a good job, you can always list them in order: your daughter living in Green Bay may be first choice, but other children living further away can be alternatives.

Issues arise when a person names their children co-trustees. There are some advantages to this. They can rely on each other for support and share the burdens of managing a trust. But co-trustees can also lead to big problems, especially if they can’t get along. All decisions will be made by committee and, generally, each trustee will need to sign off on important documents. Even if the co-trustees do cooperate, it can take longer for decisions to get made simply because more people are involved.

Pour Over Will

Pour Over Wills

When you set up a living trust, your attorney may also have you set up a short will. This can be confusing, since a trust is an alternative to a traditional will. This short will is called a “pour over will” and it serves two specific purposes.

First, a pour over will is important if you have any minor children because it names a guardian for your children in case something happens to you. In Wisconsin, you can’t use the living trust to name a guardian, so without the pour over will, the court will assign one for you. Unfortunately, the court’s choice may not be the same as your choice to take care of your children.

Second, a pour over will acts as a safety net to catch forgotten assets. As part of the estate planning process, you should transfer all of your major assets to the trust during your lifetime. But in case you forget an asset or don’t get a chance to transfer it, a pour over will instructs the probate court to distribute those assets to the trust. Without this safety net, the court would distribute your remaining assets according to its own default rules, which probably won’t match your wishes.

It’s important to note: a pour over will is not a substitute for transferring assets to your trust during your lifetime. The more assets you leave in your name, the higher the probate costs will be. And, if you don’t transfer any assets to the trust, your trust may fail because it’s not funded.

Estate planning is all about taking the steps to ensure your legacy. A pour over will is a backup plan to make sure that legacy looks the way you want it to.